Sunday, April 28, 2013

Of Jasmine And Cinnamon Soap .......

Olo and Upyio spread their arms wide and pushed the peasantry and the street vendors back, the detritus of the vendors, baskets and boxes being knocked back with their feet, clearing an area for the duel. The Captain of the City Guard, his armor gleaming, plates on his shoulders over the mail shirt and a white and red cloak draped down to mid-calf, placed his left hand on his broad sword hilt and his right arm encircled the young blond girl. He recoiled slightly at her scent. Gods, she smelled. Like fish and the sea. And she had seaweed and sand in her hair? Who would fight for her. But he guessed to each his own. He glanced across the street to where his two guardsmen stood. They leaned on their spears and looked back and forth, up and down the street, watching for interference from other schools, looking for the colors of the Gladiatores Frieburg or the green and gold of the Claidheim Mor. The other fighting schools paid the guard well to look the other way ignoring the inconsequential street duels that the students used to hone their skills. The Captain nodded with his chin and tightened his grip on the girl.

Hansbrecht Gudrun of Earlgard slowly drew his saber/rapier, all the while watching the man across the cobblestone street from him. "Watch the hands," he thought to himself. "Watch the hands and the shoulders. They would reveal the first move." He shifted slightly away as he evaluated the skill of his opponent and flexed his grip on his saber slightly. The man across from him settled slightly on his back leg, coiling for a fleche attack and Hans readied his defense and counterattack.

The captain smiled. "Just watch Hereward and learn," he said softly, indicating the student dressed in the brown of the Scholara Gladiatoria. "He is a master." Hereward had taken the tip of his sword in his left hand and flexed the sword first up and then down, then pointing the tip toward Hans, he sighed and made a feint to the right and made a sliding attack to the left.

Hans slapped the sword away, nary a movement in his feet as Hereward then retreated from Hans' defense, momentarily stunned by the ease with which Hans turned away the determined attack. Hereward had seen how Hans had stood his ground and casually parried Hereward's jump lunge and Hereward backed away in a saltoindietro (a Jump Backward), reassessing the ability of Hans as Hans casually pulled the slack up out of his trousers with his left hand, the main Gauche gripped between the front two fingers and the thumb, the other two fingers tugging at the fabric.

"Shall we say First Blood? It is silly to  fight for the honor of a woman to the death?" Hans asked. Hereward looked over to Kareen and the Captain pulled her a little tighter to his side. The Captain looked down at the wisp of a girl and when she glanced up from the squeeze on her shoulders, smiled slightly with raised eyebrows and quietly said, "Looks like Hereward may have bit off a little more than he can chew this time. This might prove enlightening." The Captain chuckled slightly and returned his gaze to the combatants, mentally re-thinking his calculations on the two.

Circling right then left, Hans described small circles in the air with the tip of his rapier in circolaziones, watching Hereward contemplating his next move. He slashed in to Hereward, sliding an assault up toward his left shoulder. Hereward swiped the rapier's attack away, parrying with his main Gauche and tried to slide a counterattack to Hans with his rapier. Only then did Hereward realize that the attack by Hans had been a feint to get Hereward to over-extend himself and he desperately tried to meet Hans' riposte as Hans' rapier slid under the sabre and pierced Hereward's tunic. He felt the the blade slide under his right armpit but it drew no blood and pierced the front and back of the fabric only, the silver flashing in the sunlight. Hans drew away, glancing at the tip of his blade. However he saw no gore on the blade and as he retreated, he swished his blade slightly in front of him. 

Hereward, took the missed counter-riposte from Hans as a failure and executed a countertime attack of his own to follow-up on the opportunity. He lunged forward, fleche-ing when he realized that Hans was not retreating but had stepped inside the tip of Hereward's saber, advancing, and as the sword slide along Hans' upper arm, the thick fabric of the jerkin turned the edge. Hans flipped his rapier, turning Hereward's main Gauche outward and Hans tucked his own Gauche in, its edge dragging against Hereward's cheek and Hans  dipped the tip against his opponent's cheek, drawing a single drop of red that dripped down the edge of the main Gauche's blade and dripped off the small dagger, making a small red stain on Hereward's white scarf.

"First blood?" Hans asked, a look of amazement in Herewards eyes as his Saber and main Gauche clattered to the cobblestones. The two men separated, still facing each other, Hans slowly lowering his blades as other associates of Hereward's came forward, Hereward's right hand coming up to his cheek and dabbing at the small spot of blood that dripped down. His associates picked up his saber and smaller sword as Hans backed away, Olo coming up to him with silver pieces jingling in his hand.

"How much did we make?" he casually asked as Olo, the Hobbit counted through the various coins of different types and denominations, his fingers spreading the silver dragons and copper wheels and bronze farthings, mentally calculating in his head. 

"Well, if I'm right, we made about 40 silver at two to one. Of course, no one expected you to win because Hereward is the top student at some school called the Schola Gladia- something or other and we got the bets laid down late. You're new in town but maybe we can do better the next time." Olo lowered his voice and whispered, "Don't tell anyone your name," and he hustled off to make a few more collections  calling after a shoe maker and a vegetable dealer who had bet on Hereward at the beginning and were now trying to slip away unseen. One of the City Guards placed his hand on the shoemakers chest, his arm stopping the vegetable dealer, and he nodded toward Olo with his helmet saying, "I think the short man wants a word with you." They both took on a chagrined look and turned to settle their debt. Afterward Olo flipped two silvers to the City Guard, which would buy a whole gallon for the off-duty guard. Maybe they would remember him if he ever got into a scrape, Olo hoped.

The Captain of the Guard released Kareen, turned to Hans and said, "Well, you fought for her. She's all yours ... if you can stand the smell." 'Rissa the Druid came over and taking Kareen under her arm, said, "Don't worry. You only smell of the sea. We'll get that washed out in no time. Come let us go to the inn down the road."

Hans dragged a small oily rag down the length of his blade as he cleaned it and returned it to its sheath. Hereward and his compatriots had trod of down the road, muttering under their breath about "upstart sell-swords", "who did he think he was," and Hereward complaining that if he hadn't have stumbled on the loose cobble, he would have run Hans through, first blood limits or not. Hans cracked a wan smile and took his half from Olo, the silver clinking as it dropped into his pouch and he looked up at the party.

"Dinner is on Olo and me, I guess," and he looked over at Grimgar, the dwarf who had never taken his axe off of his back. "Well?" Hans asked.

Grimgar shrugged slightly and stroked his beard, the beads in his beard clicking as his hand ran over them. "Never had a moment's doubt," he said and he head toward the Blue Flail Inn. He had had the stewed pork with lentils last night and was looking forward to washing it down with several tankards of beer again and amusing the patrons with Dwarven songs of battle and history. Hans clapped his hand on the Dwarf's helmet and said, "Lead the way."


Kareen sat at the table. She had profited from the bath, even though she had just been in the water a few days ago. 'Rissa had insisted that the innkeeper's wife prepare warm water and carry it up to the large wooden tub in the large sleeping area. Then Rissa had pulled some lump of animal tallow laced with fragrant herbs and some sort of spice that smelled of Jasmine and cinnamon. She'd insisted that Kareen sit and soak for about fifteen minutes while Rissa sang gentle songs in the dimming twilight while she Kareen floated drowsily in the warm water and 'Rissa stared at the plants by the window sill. Then 'Rissa left while Kareen washed herself all over and she had to admit that the tallow smelled refreshing. 'Rissa came back in with an earth-colored shift, laid it out for Kareen and turned to look out the window while Kareen slipped it on over her head. She held up short brown boots for Kareen to try.

"How did you know my size?" Kareen asked.

"Oh. I guessed. I hope they fit," said 'Rissa after Kareen slipped them on. "Come on. Maybe we can get Grimgar to use the water while it's still warm." She laughed at the thought of the Dwarf bobbing in the water and the two of them, arm in arm, descended the stairs into the main room where the party had taken over a large table. 

Dayne, the Mage, sat in one corner, his large broad-brimmed hat shielding his eyes and he was quiet, sipping from his glass, his eyes capturing everything happening in the inn, missing nothing. Grimgar missed very little also, as long as it could be seen through the bottom of a tankard of ale. He was well through his fifth song and third tale, he and a female half-Elf warrior named Jane arguing about the merits of the Elven race and she was trying to get him interested in helping her discover the fate of a party lost in the Silent Sea. After listening to the conversation for a while, Kareen realized that the half-Elf was pretty sharp tongued and probably more than a little insane.

"Kareen!" bellowed Grimgar, as a slightly attractive serving wench poured a new tankard for him from a pitcher. Grimgar unsuccessfully tried to corral her and get her to sit upon his lap and failing that, took another big draught of his ale and between mighty Dwarven belches that he seemed rightly proud of said, "Tell us the tale of how you came to Asselin."

Kareen settled back against the wall behind her, a glass of wine in her hand, and she stared down at the table for a moment. Dayne reached over and gently took her by the hand, patting it softly and said, "It's is all right. You are among friends and companions now. Right?" and he looked about the table. Hans nodded, patting his rapier pommel, saying, "I have already fought for you". Olo, barely visible behind his tankard, leaned around the side without the handle and said, "And you already made Hans and me 53 silver pieces. Not bad for a start."

Geoffrey, one of the sailors from the ship who had come with the party was sitting near the door, lifted his mug and tipped it toward her in a sign of acceptance. Upyio, the little cabin boy, who despite being told to stay on the ship had managed to somehow appear in the inn and was gnawing on a chicken leg, leaped to his feet at Dayne's words to speak but Geoffrey gave him a shove, forcing him back over the bench and under the table, his wooden clogs flying off, silencing him as he disappeared under the table.

Grimgar's fist flew to his mouth, a mighty rumbling churning from deep within his gut and a prodigious burp belched forth, only barely suppressed by the shield of his hand. His beard on either side flew outward from the force, small flecks of white foam from the mouthful of ale spotted the beard and the front of his plate mail.
He dropped his hand, revealing a sheepish grin, his eyes slightly bleary.

"It was terrible!" Kareen started slowly.

"We were tacking North-North-East on the fishing boat Matilda when the Goblin pirates struck.  The ship was crewed by its owners, four young men, all cousins.  The Goblins came upon us quickly, we had no chance to escape.  I regained consciousness as the Gobbos were ransacking our boat.  The men were all dead, and I was bound hand and foot under a careless guard.  The Goblins were drinking the on-board wine and transferring cargo to their vessel.  I heard them a bit.  They're not just pirates, they are slavers.  They were waiting for me to wake up before they violated me.  The men were dead, and I was to be sold into slavery.

"I managed to jump up and stumble over the side, into the deep chill ocean.  We were about eight miles off from the coast.  The Gobbos were surprised, and did not pursue me into the frigid water.  I was able to cut my bonds and swim away.  I considered attacking the goblins and attempting to sink their ship, but decided discretion was the better part of valor.  I barely survived the marathon swim to shore in the icy ocean waves.  After warming up, I made my way directly to the capital of Asselin, and to this discussion."

She paused for a moment, her hands clasped. Then she wiped her hand down her forehead, the look of forlornness hardening as she looked from party member to party member. 

"So, who will help me bring El’Lolu’s vengeance to those Gobbo pirate slavers?" She asked.

Dayne looked to Hans and then to Grimgar, to 'Rissa, and then to Geoffrey. "There might be something we can do about that.'

Upyio popped his head out from under the table where he had been looking for his other clog and his little voice trumpeted. "I wanna go, too!"

Monday, April 15, 2013

Swimming Lessons Would Be Appropriate ......

Dayne leaned against the wharf piling, watching the hoist as it lifted the last of the war horses upward carrying it over to the caravel Alkalarops, the ship rocking gently against the rising tide, its woven rope bumpers thumping against the dock. He watched as the large white horse, probably 1100 pounds in all, struggled against the sling, uncomfortable with its unfamiliar pressure on his chest and belly, as he swung over the rail of the ship and was lowered slowly into the bowels of the ship. The horse had always been herded before. It was his first time aboard ship and he was nervous in the dark confines of the ship's belly,the other horse packed into the hold fidgeting and stamping about. 'Rissa, the druid moved among the mares and the stallion warhorses, her soothing voice murmuring spells to calm the beasts nervousness. It would be a four or five day journey to the capital if the weather spells that Dayne cast worked favorably and longer if they failed, which she knew was entirely possible. But she had confidence in the mage. He didn't fail that often.

The captain, Fordham, watched with a critical eye on the weather as the final animal was lowered into the hold and the sling was slipped of the beast. The hoist was then pulled away and made fast on the dock. Gobo,the first mate, waved his shorts arms about, giving commands to the crew as he instructed them in the laying of the hatch covers and the tightening of deck lines for the evening. The sun was just descending in the western sky and the ship was finally loaded for the voyage to Asselin, the capital of the island-nation with its shipment of new horseflesh. Gobo paused for a moment, wiping his hands on his knee length trousers. He would be glad when this voyage with the horses was over.

The beasts had been stirring and kicking for the two days it had taken to load them and he was glad that the loading process was finished.Now if they could just get the voyage over and get the animals off, he would be happy. When he heard that the Captain had agreed to take a shipment of the Queen's horses to the capital, he had been reluctant to sign on for the voyage until he heard how much they stood to make for the trip. Twice their normal wages would be great but they had been a bugbear and a half to load. The roan mare had kicked him hard. He still carried the mark and if it hadn't been for his rock-hard skin from his Earth Elemental lineage that naturally protected him, he would have been lain up for weeks. As it was, two of his crewmen were disabled with broken bones and one of them looked like he wouldn't be back anytime soon. What with the new owners and the bad luck that this supposedly brought,he couldn't hardly blame them.

The Alkalarops had been purchased as a package deal along with the cogs Garnet Star and Kornephoros from Captain Nigel, the old owner and captain, who was getting a little long in the tooth for sailing over the seas and had been thinking about seeking a buyer for about a year. When he heard of the band of adventurers that had received the land holding of Castle Gliston up river with its overdue taxes and that they were looking for a ship or ships to start making a little side income to pay them, he was just waiting to get word that they had come to Falcon's Hollow and were snooping around for a fresh peach to pluck. Hamon, the shipping agent in town, had mentioned his name as possibly having something they might be interested in and after the group of men and the girl had met with Christian and seen his shoddy old Draken, a viking-type longship that had truly seen better days, he was happy to show them his caravel, the Alkalarops.
He'd sent word ahead to Captain Fordham to have him bend on the new foresail and slap some paint onto her port side where he had recently made a rough arrival with an overladen load of wheat, leaving some raw wood scars on her side. A little tar on the main stay had helped and he'd had the crew holy-stone the decks until they shone in the sunlight. The mage Dayne had done the majority of the negotiations and had driven a hard bargain. Captain Nigel almost felt that Dayne was going to walk away from the deal but his interest was heightened when he mentioned the second cog, the Garnet Star and how fast she sailed,with her newly cleaned bottom and her fresh canvas sails. The cogs only carried one mast but they were quick and maneuverable and could get into the small ports and harbors along the coast where the money could be made.

When the group said they wanted to pay cash, the Captain wasn't quite so surprised, for sales on ships were sometimes made in cash,rather than letters of credit, with the influx of gems and treasure from the newer crops of adventurers on the island. But the old captain nearly popped his eyes out of his head and he quickly covered the beautifully cut gemstone, a fine white diamond in a red velvet bag, with his hand on the tavern table where negotiations had been going on, shielding the view of the other tavern occupants.

Dayne said quietly, "We have had it appraised at 60,000 gold. We figured it would cover 50,000 of the Alkalarops, Kornephoros, Garnet Star, their crew, any existing contracts or future contracts, standing orders, liens and such? A standard contract and we will use coin and trappings for the balance, if you'll accept that." The Captain lifted the edge of his hand off the stone a bit and stared at the clarity of the rock, the light from the window catching and flashing on the facets of the stone,casting rainbows momentarily across the table and upon the wall before Nigel dropped his hand back on the stone. He felt the sharp edges of the stone against his skin as Dayne pushed his hand down on the Captain's hand, and asked, "Well, is the deal final?

All Captain Nigel could see at the moment in his mind's eye was the gleam of the stone and Dayne looked to Ash and Rissa, the new ranger Testtelo and down to see where Olo the Hobbit had gotten off to. He knew the deal had been sealed by the stone. He stood at the table, reached across and shook the hand of the Captain. "I'll be down at the dock in the morning to have the documents of transfer made and examine the voyage rutters of each of the ships."

"The Garnet Star will have to be checked another time," said Nigel. "She at sea right now with a shipment of olive oil and spices for Lower Kinnerton. She'll be in port in about three days if the storms didn't delay her. Captain Rokilda, she's a good captain but if you believe in the superstitions about a woman on board,you can get a new one. But youd be hard put to find a better captain than Rotti, I'll tell you."

"She'll do fine, I'm sure," Dayne said, as he swept the diamond they had taken back into the sack. The party had not discussed using the stone to cover the costs of the ships but he felt, based on his nautical experience, that this was too good of a deal to pass on. He wanted to grab it while he had the chance and only hesitated for a moment before sealing the deal with a handshake. Ash nodded to Dayne in agreement at the deal. 'Rissa, seated against the wall, really wasn't even interested in boats and the sea and the like. She was watching a wasp that was drinking from a drop of juice she had dripped from her goblet onto the window sill. It was sipping and she spoke softly to the wasp, gentle druidic words in a waspish dialect that neither of the mages understood. The ranger looked out the tavern door at the traffic passing by, aware of the foot traffic of peasant, sailors, the occasional cut-purse and the rarer city guardsman who passed the door. Olo drifted toward the kitchen, the cook in him wondering about the odors and smells wafting out of the doorway and how he might improve upon the fare. Too much pepper, he thought, as he slipped his pack off and tossed it under the bar. He'd have to talk to the cook about that.


The freshening breeze blew from the northwest and the captain, Fordham, leaned against the rail, his legs and feet compensating for the sway of the ship as it pushed forward against the waves, sliding up to the crest of a wave and then sliding down the backside as it settled into the trough. He heard the horses in the hold shuffling, their shod hooves scrapping against the bottom floor as they shifted against the movement of the ship and its natural motion on the sea. Gobo had been performing a good job of keeping the animals secure in their temporary stalls below decks and although he had reservations about a woman aboard ship, the druid 'Rissa was doing great service, moving among the beasts, soothing them with her spells of calm and her melodic horse chanting. Captain Fordham didn't understand a single word of what she was saying when he went into the hold but the horses were calm, no longer kicking against the sides of the caravel, threatening to tear the guts out of the old girl.

The captain nodded to the quartermaster, who took his pipe out of his toothless mouth and smiled as he pointed the stem at him and said,"Steady as she goes, Cap'n. Fair wind and steady seas. The weather mage has performed well this trip." The QM pointed to the helmsman and said,"Let her fall off a point or so." The helmsman smile and held the wheel just where it was and the QM, after a moment, sighed and said, "Aye,there she be. Thats good. Steady as she goes."

Dayne, across the quarterdeck of the caravel, was watching the building clouds behind him. If the storm growing back there built any more strength, he would need to cast another spell soon to stabilize the breeze to get them into the bay safe and sound. The breeze was beginning to freshen slightly and the captain had just had the sails trimmed to take advantage of the additional wind and he felt the caravel had picked up a little speed. Ash leaned against the rail amid ship in the shade of the mainsail, his fingers working in intricate patterns as he tried to develop better and quicker ways to throw a spell. The ranger Testtolo perched upon the mainsail yard, the right hand drawing and replacing an arrow into his quiver, practicing his drawing,improving his ability to ready an arrow for firing in action. Dayne smiled. The ranger wasn't sensitive but Dayne could see that the ranger had taken the friendly ribbing to heart after the last encounter with Orcs, when the ranger had difficulty getting arrows out quickly. Practice would refine the skill,thought Dayne.

Testtolo watched as 'Rissa came up the ladder from tending the horses below for a little sunshine. She spent a lot of time in the last three days below with the animals and was starting to smell ... well, a little horsey. The fresh air would do her some good. He looked out toward the horizon,fixing his gaze upon the bay ahead and reached for an arrow in his quiver. The hand dropped to the horn nock and he smoothly placed the arrow upon the string,the nock of the arrow settled onto the nock point and he went through the motions of drawing the arrow up to his chin, the hollow of his hand between his thumb and forefinger settling into the back point of his jaw and the tip settled onto the imaginary target, lined up with the string onto the water-bugs that swept across the water.

Water-bugs? His left arm dropped, his eyes narrowed to sharpen his vision and he eased the string, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun. The Bugs, dancing across the water, their thin legs rising and falling as they dipped into the water, propelled their fat bodies forward, their hairy backs bristling. Except it wasnt hair, thought Testtolo, and those aren't legs. And they aren't bodies of bugs. The ranger called below to the mage, who was talking to the captain and didn't hear him. He perched on the yard, his buttocks pressed firmly against the mast, and he fired the ready arrow downward toward the mage. The arrow buried itself into the deck just inches from the mage's booted foot, nearly cutting the captain's hand as he was waving it in front of him making a nautical point.

Dayne started at the arrow's impact and jerked his head up,his gaze under the brim of his black hat to the top of the mast where the ranger stood. Braced there, the ranger pointed toward the bay and cocked his arm and pointed again, his shout carried away by the rising wind. Dayne turned to sea, following the ranger's direction and had to stare for a moment before he saw the rowed craft. He didn't have the advantage of the height of the ranger but as the boats drew closer, he could see them, pulling against the oars, their backs bent, sweat glistening. Turning back to Fordham, Dayne said,"This could be bad. Reef and slow us down. 'Rissa. Stay here and getready." He looked up at the ranger, held his palm up motioning him to stay where he was, and made a motion of shooting a bow. The ranger signaled understanding and readied an arrow in his bow and putting two more in his bow hand, an arrow held ready under his ring and little finger.

The boats separated, evenly going to the larboard and starboard side, the creatures in the boat quickening their pace as they closed.A ballista from amidships, carefully pointed by Ash, bucked as it hurled a large stone. Ash's aim proved unerringly true as the huge stone flashed through the air, slammed into two Goblins in the middle of the first ship and forcing them into the sea, and slammed into the bottom of the long boat. The oars,shattered like matchwood and splintered into the air, the keel of the boat broken, its bow and stern flipping toward each other, carrying the Goblins it held into each other, shrieking as the seas boiled and foamed and the creatures settled into the deep dark water, plunging downward as they sank beneath the waves.

Dayne had conjured a rising tide under the boat and the water beneath the ship rose several feet underneath it, riding as if on the peak of a wave without sliding off, sliding neither forward nor backward, the Goblins struggling against the slope of the watery hill. Dayne turned toward 'Rissa as the first of the Goblins began to approach the ship's side and yelled, "Grease the side!" and he hoped she understood.

Rissa mouthed the phrases of the spell and Dayne was satisfied to see the side of the ship shimmering in the sunlight and the first Goblins who had leaped for the side grabbed the standing rigging but were slipping and sliding, their clawed feet scrambling for purchase onto the slippery sides, their feet unable to get a grip on the magically greased side of the boat. An arrow flashed down from above and a Goblin, stiffening as he stood straight on the bridle where he just gotten a standing, said "Ghuukhaar" which Dayne knew was a pleading for "Mother"and the Goblin plunged backward into the sea, his head had preceded by the arrow that pierced his helmet then his skull.

One of the passengers of the voyage, a duelist by nature, Hansbrect Gundrun of Earlgard leaped past Dayne as a Goblin leaped over the railing and swung a sword at the mage. Hans' saber slid through the air and the Goblin's swing was interrupted as the saber slipped through the Goblin's hide armor and pierced the armpit of the Goblin. A loud grunt came from the green-grey lips and the Goblin reassessed the danger. The mage stepped back and began a conjuration as the duelist danced across the mage's field of view,stabbing, slashing, cutting, piercing, never stopping even for a moment as his blade continually met the Goblins, now piercing one Goblin in the back through the gap between the hide back plate and the belt, then slashing across the throat of one coming over the side and sending that one to the fishes as food,striking the rail of the boat on the way down, carrying a second Goblin with him.

A sailor called Geoffrey cheered as he slashed in from the right, a cutlass in each hand, motioning for the cabin boy Upyio to move back.He stabbed at the one opponent, slashing to his right at the other, a gout of blood splashing as he opened a nasty gash in that Goblin's arm. The first Goblin cheered and laughed , "O Druuc Gaar!" which is Goblin for"You Dog Meat!" and sliced viciously at Geoffery's neck. Upyio blink momentarily and in a smoking flash, the Goblins sword vanished, reappearing out over the sea, its momentum carrying it further away and disappearing in a splash. Upyio darted his glance about for more targets. Geoffrey thanked his good luck,not realizing the intervention of Upyio and taking a deep breath, turned his attention to other targets.

Meanwhile Dayne continued with the Goblins screaming as they churned over the side, casting a lightning stare here and there as needed.He had cast a flaming ball of fire toward the prow of one of the boats and it bloomed into a gout of red and yellow flame, searing the Goblins in the bow of the boat and evaporating the wood, causing the stern to slide under the wave from the weight of the Goblins remaining aboard. He was smiling, watching Hans and Geoffrey finishing the remaining opponents on this side, arrows blossoming in their heads and shoulders as Testtolo continued to make his contributions from above. Goblin swords and axes winked out of sight, reappearing over the sea, Upyio's high pitched laugh ringing through the afternoon air.

Dayne heard the clash of arms behind him and he realized the other Goblin boats had come around to the starboard side. The crew of the ship had been doing an admirable job, considering they outnumbered the Goblins,The mage selected a Goblin in the center and gazed at him, an electric blue bolt of energy lancing forth and striking the Goblin square in the head. The gray-green creature paused for a moment, momentarily stunned, but then choked up on his sword and made to run forward toward the mage, just as a crewman with a boarding axe swung from the side and smote the creature in the side in the face, knocking him backward over the rail and into the sea. As he plummeted over the side and splashed noisily, the other Goblins, seeing him landing and sinking, looked at each other and began to leap back into the boats. They pulled at the oars, first haphazardly, and then as they got coordinated they gathered momentum and Dayne, feeling a little weary and peaked, let the Goblin boats veer off and flee. The crew laughed, pleased to have avoided serious injury in the attack and pleased at their new owners performances, slapped each other on the back and shook hands all around.

Dayne saw the last Goblin sinking, slowly disappearing into the dark sea, and turning to the crew, he grinned and said "They should have taken swimming lessons."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Only Thing Worse .......

The fire crackled merrily and licked at the bottom of the pot of juices as I stirred it with a wooden spoon. The brace of coneys spited upon the iron rod I gave another turn to even the roasting on the other side. I didn't want one side to be half done and the other overcooked. That wouldn't do at all and Ash, the Mage needed the meat full cooked stark white without a trace of pink or blood throughout before he would touch it. Using a fork, I slid one of the rabbits I had taken with my sling earlier on the trail out of the fire. The Dwarf likes his meat rare. Well, truthfully, raw.

Grimgar tipped his cup back, sucking the last of the ale from the bottom and lamenting the end of the keg. There was only one more on Big Nate and then they would be forced to drink.... No, he didn't want to think of it. No self respecting Oakenhand Dwarf should be forced to drink water. Water was for peasants and the forging of weapons. He couldn't stand the idea of the tasteless stuff and who knows what had been floating in it? He shook his head and sucked the end of his mustaches, getting the last drops of golden nectar from them, savoring every drop.

Grimgar was intent upon milking his beard when his hand unconsciously drifted toward the handle of his axe, slipping into the binding strap of the handle, as the hair on the back of his neck prickled with alarm and his danger sense tingled, his breathing deepening as his chest began to come in deeper breaths, his blood coursing into his veins. "Trouble, I think", he said softly and he pivoted toward the northeast, his night vision gazing deep into the woods. Dayne took up his short staff and made a motion with his hand for Rissa to come behind him in a gesture of protection. Ash had already stepped back from the fire ring and was muttering the beginnings of the incantation to turn Invisible. I, of course, still stirred the pot and watched with slotted eyes but my left hand worked the hilt of my small sword to insure it rested loose in the scabbard.

At the edge of Grimgar's vision, a figure emerged in the trees, his right hand holding a bow down at his side and his left hand up, palm out, in a universal gesture of greeting and piece. Leather boots and breeches girded his legs, a belt with a knife around his waist, the tunic of some military origin of green and blue with a white cross small upon the right breast, and a floppy brown hat with the right brim trimmed short and upturned so as not to interfere with the drawing of the bowstring.

"Hail! Your fire is large and welcoming. May I come to it and share some time with you?" the man said as he slowly came closer to the group, his steps gentle and silent, soft on the forest floor. His eyes cast upon each of the figures in the party but never tarried long away from the Dwarf, who appeared the most dangerous.

I tried to break the ice. "Yes. Come. Sit and eat. The coneys are done and the soup is warm. We have oat biscuits that are not completely weevilly yet and they can be soften in the soup." I spooned some soup into one of our wooden bowls and held it out in welcome. He came closer, kneeling, placing his bow across his legs as he took the bowl from me with his left hand and blew across the surface of the soup. He glanced sideways at Grimgar as he said, "I am Testtelo, a Centurion of the Order of the Queen's Will. We are a ranging company who patrol the forests and enforce the Queen's laws within the forests and lands of the Queen. This badge," and he touched the small silver embroidered five pointed cross stitched into his tunic with the wooden spoon' "marks me as one."

Dayne jerked a hind leg of rabbit off the brace remaining on the spit and gnawed some of the meat off the bone. "You should know your way around here, then. Do we have much farther to Falcon's Hollow?"

"No," said the archer. "It is only a few leagues farther to the west. The Hollow is to the south of the main city of Lower Kinnerton. It is a nautical ville of Lord Clavertons main city that is based mostly to shipping and fishing, filled mainly of sailors and ship's crews between voyages, inns and brothels, well set for travelers like you."

Dayne paused for a moment, thinking. He finished the last of the rabbit he held, sucking the meat and juices off the leg he held before flipping the bone into the fire as Ash settled back into his seat across from Clarissa, the Druid. She snuggled cross-legged with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders; her hands holding a sprig of brush as she examined the leaves, perhaps for some hidden medicinal properties.

"We are in search of a vessel," Dayne finally said. "It may be that we will find something that we need in ... What did you call it? Falcon's Roost?" Testtelo corrected the other Mage, "Falcon's Hollow. Try the Orchid and Cat tavern. There are always captains and mates hanging out there." I had been following the conversation from the side, concentrating more on the coneys and the soup, slipping the oat biscuits against the flat rocks to toast them but not so as to burn them, occasionally flipping them with an iron fork. Then I looked up, realizing that one of our group was missing.

Grimgar stood near the edge of the fire, staring into the darkness, his right hand clenching and unclenching the handle of his axe. I noticed he had slid the shield on his back into its battle position high upon his left arm and he'd dropped his battle helm over his face, his beard and the braids with their beads on them jutting out from underneath.

A long line of figures emerged into the light as they slowly stepped forward, their sword arms swinging back and forth. The gray-green face of one of them cracked in a snagged toothed smile as the apparent leader of the new group grinned. He patted his rusty sword in his palm and said, "Good evening. You enjoy the evenings, are you? You be in the territory of da Pimple Heads." Grimgar saw in the dim light that the leaders head and some of the other had small yellow and pink lesions and pustules covering their heads, some oozing with slime and fluid. "We take you gold. We take you jewels. We leeb you silber cuz we doon wan uz to tink bad ob da Pimple Heads!"

The Dwarf clinched his axe, rolled his shoulders to get the kinks out of the muscles, turned his head slightly over his shoulder and said, "The Fight's On!" He began to shuffle toward the dark figures that moved toward him in the edge of the light. The Orc leader grinned and said, "Oh, goody. Day's gonna fight. We gets to keep it all." Arrows with scraggly black and white feathers flashed past, one thunking loudly into Grimgar's shield. He swiped it clear with a sweep of his axe, the shaft shattered, the head buried deep in the oak. Orcs!

Dayne muttered with a frown, "Always interrupting supper," and grabbing two of the logs from the edge of the fire, he twirled and flipped them toward the line of a dozen orcs that advanced from the tree lines, snarling and growling. The two branches arched through the air, a line of sparks tracing the path as the logs arced toward the skirmish line, one of the logs exploding into a cloud, motes of light as it struck an Orc and fell to the ground, mostly extinguished. The other branch flew to the base of the tree, falling into a large spread of fallen leaves, igniting them and casting light upon the combatants.

Clarissa, the Druid, jumped to her feet, the blanket flying from her shoulders and she shrieked "No!" and she ran for the torch, the flames now had begun to spread and started burning up the trunk of the tree. She ran forward, ignoring the Orcs, stomping on the burning leaves, trying to extinguish the fire that threatened to consume the tree and potentially, the forest. Arrows flashed past her into the darkness beyond as a few of the Orcs closed on her, some of them still speechless and staring at her as she danced on the flames.

I realized a fight was coming and started throwing the soup on the fire, putting lids on the pots, throwing the oat biscuits into a pile on a sheet of cloth of save them and then realized that Big Nate, the Mule, was tied to the tree. If something happened to us, at least he would be free. Drawing my small sword as I crossed over to the small tree Big Nate was tied to, I quickly swung my sword and sliced through the rope that snugged Big Nate's bridle to the tree. He jerked his head back, parting the last few strands of remaining rope then stood still like the well-trained mule he was.

Grimgar pitched into the line of Orcs, the foes quickly enveloping him, the Dwarf bouncing back then diving in, hacking and chopping, never stopping, his breath coming in deep gasps as he sang the Dwarven war-songs that evoked the Dwarven Gods of old to support his combat. Orc blood flew as he slashed the Orcs with his war-axe but there were so many, when one Orc flagged and stepped back to catch its breath, another would step into its place. Grimgar knew that if the fight continued much longer, his friends and he were in trouble. He already carried two arrows imbedded in his shield and a third had made it through his plate mail and the tip had pierce his shoulder about an inch, irritating the muscle every time he swung or parried.

After flinging the branches from the fires and seeing Clarissa running after them into the line of Orcs, figuring that she knew what she was doing, Dayne turned to tell Ash about the attack. But Ash was gone. Vanished as if in thin air, Ash had finished the Invisibility incantation he had checked and stepping carefully so as not to disturb the ground cover and reveal his presence, he began to work his way around the flank of the Orcs, his staff held to strike an Orc as he got close to one.

Clarissa continued to stomp at the fire in a vain attempt to extinguish the growing flames. The slavering Orcs, grinning widely, skittered forward, edging to within fighting range, weaving their weapons back and forth. She mumbled an incantation under her breath and pulled her feet close together, her mouth voiced the words for "Walk Through Earth." The Orcs eyes flared agog and their mouths dropped open as 'Rissa dropped into the earth beneath her feet, disappearing beneath the carpet of burnt and charred leaves. The Orcs, stunned at first, edged forward, fear in their eyes, poking their swords among the leaves, trying to locate the Druid amongst the smoldering ruins but finding no trace.

Dayne moved toward the advancing line, thinking of what he might do, when he saw one of the largest Orcs headed right toward him, swinging his sword back and forth, a gleam in his eye as he targeted Dayne. But just as he raised his sword to slash at the Mage, the big Orc was left with a pile of chain mail as the Mage vanished downward into the earth, disappearing out from underneath the pile of mail, floating through the dark earth. Time and the closing Orc had not allowed a "See Through Earth" spell to follow so Dayne moved blindly toward the flank of the Orcs, moving as far as he thought their edge might be before he came up, concentrating on the words that energized the lightning he planned to use.

Grimgar slashed into another Orc, his axe biting deep into the Orc's arm and lodging in the bone. He kicked at the Orc's shin to free the axe and this caused him to stumble back, the axe in pulling free stretched the Orc's arm out, the slash from the opponent next to the struck Orc that had been aimed at Grimgar now intercepted the forearm of the first Orc. The unfortunate Orc now had a missing limb to worry about in addition to the deep wound he had just received from the dwarf. Grimgar barked out a short laugh as the new opponent looked down in amazement at his rusty sword and the stump of the forearm, the hand lying upon the ground still grasping spasmodically clutching at the air.

Clarissa carefully poked her head above the level of the earth, her head covered by charred leaves and twigs, camouflaging her emergence. Ahead just within arms reach, she saw the back of one of her attackers still thrusting amongst the leaves with the tip of his sword. She murmured softly and reached her hand out, gently touching the calf of the Orc ahead of her. The Orc, stunned at first, immediately stiffened and looked around, his two friends staring at him as blue magical light shone from the Orcs eyes and his spine arched, his head jerking back. His Orc buddies were amazed as the very bones of his skeleton glowed through his skin as if shining by a bright light from within and the Orc slammed to the ground quickly, his body twitchy and jerking as his insides cooked from within as the magical lightning consumed him. His two friends raised their swords as they twirled around, looking for their adversary as Rissa settled back into the earth, plotting her next move.

The Orcs on the right flank had passed Grimgar and the treeline and moved toward Testtolo as he moved to draw an arrow. He had failed in his attempt to draw it quickly, attributed to nerves, and he concentrated on drawing the arrow, slipping the nock onto the string at the nock point, and drawing the arrow back to the underside of his chin, he settled the point on the chin of the Orc charging him and let fly. The arrow hurtled across the fifteen yards between them and he watch the arrows flight, cursing when he realized he had not waited quite long enough on the release. Flashing straight but true to its aim, the flexing arrow in the throes of the archers paradox, lanced toward the target and its broad head tip struck upon the armored rim of the Orcs helm, glancing off the helm with a clang, the helmet knocked askew over the one eye. The target reached with his free left hand and pushed the helmet back into position and the other Orcs, who had paused their rush for a moment in anticipation of the other Orc being skewered by the arrow, laughed uproariously at their partners good fortune as the other Orc shook the cobwebs of the war-arrows blow from his head. Testtolo took the moment and turned, running back toward a tree directly behind him and swinging up from the bottom branch, climbed upward into the higher branches, and readied his bow for another shot, again following his training; draw the arrow, nock the arrow, ready the shot, pick the target, aim with string-tip-target.

I grabbed Big Nate by the head and made myself as small as I could while holding on to Big Nates bridle (which is pretty small for a Halfling) as I watched two Orcs come toward the fire. They stopped when the smell caught them. The lead Orc bent over and lifted the lid off my soup pot and breathed deeply, a big smile upon his face and I cringed at the thought of the horrible teeth even touching my food. The Orc reached for a spoon and dipped it into the soup and took a big helping of the soup and I would have almost been happy for the look of satisfaction on its face as it savored the taste of herbs and roots, flavors and spices, and the chopped vegetables that had softened in the juices simmering for the hour or so that it has been percolating. Almost Except I was maneuvering Big Nate so his rear end was aimed toward the Orc. Nate must have dragged a hoof or switched his tail against the back of the orc for the Orc turned, his big googly eyes bugging out of his face at the sight of an enormous mule tuckus staring him in the face. I softly grabbed Nate by the ears and yanking, said, Kick, Nate! Kick! and Nate, being the obedient mule he is, lifted his hind legs in the air, the Orc realizing in an instant the inevitability of what was going to occur, and Big Nate did what mules do naturally, planting his two hoofs into the mid-section of the Orc, his sword blade catching the right hoof, bending it almost in two, eleven hundred pounds of mule being not an inconsiderate weight, and the Orc became airborne, already lifeless so he never felt the flight of 8 yards nor his final impact 7 feet up a tree trunk or the rough slide to the ground. His partner turned and stared in stupefied silence at the flying Orc pin wheeled, passing him at head height in the half light of the campfire, trying to figure out how his friend had achieved flight, and he trotted over to check him.

Grimgar was tired. His right arm was like lead and irritated by the arrow head high in the shoulder muscle. His left arm was numb and battered by the continued impact from the Orc swords that the shield had absorbed and deflected in his bid hold the center of the line. He yelled a Dwarven Curse as he stepped and smashed another blow into the Orc ahead of him. The Orc recoiled from the impact and another orc took his place. They never stopped coming, thought Grimgar, and he gave ground another step backward. He hoped the magic users were having better luck but he hadnt seen them since the fight started. Pfft. Magic users, he spit and choked up on his axe, looking toward the Orcs, daring them to come in to him, glaring left then right, eyes gleaming. They never stopped reading their books and thumbing through their scrolls, he thought.

Dayne glided through the earth still, making toward the flank of the Orcs skirmish line, unseen by Ash, who, invisible, closed on of the Orc archers who had just drawn a bead on Grimgar and had settled the tip of the arrow to release it toward the Dwarven fighter. A moment before the Orcs gripped loosed on the bowstring, Ash lashed the hidden quarterstaffs metal-shod tip toward the archers legs, not striking a full striking but distracting enough that the arrow zipped off into the darkness, clipping leaves as it flew.  Ash cursed under his breath and ducked back as the Orc whirled and seeing nothing, cast his gaze about for his adversary, scratching his jaw with his next arrow in confusing. Ash wound up with his staff for the next strike, a measure blow to the Orcs left side of his head, a blow that would surely stun him.

Rissa chose this moment to poke her head and eyes above the level of the earth and leaves. The combat had swirled past her, Grimgar backing away with several Orcs taking turns stepping in to try and strike the Dwarf, only to be struck by the axe-weilder and staggering back but still wearing the short fighter down and realizing that if they just kept it up a half-minute longer, they would be able to wittle the little oak tree down to size. The right flank had been hung up with a tree and a Ranger and were trying to figure out if they could grab a low hanging branch and pull the Ranger down or if they could just on the Orcs axes and chop the tree down and kill the Ranger when he fell. They could always loot the body then. The Left flank and its archers were still trying to figure out first how one of the orcs had been vaporized in a flash of electrically blue light while the one of the swordsmen was trying to determine how his partner had taken flight from one side of the camplight to the other but had not yet emerged to ask him about it. He followed his companions flight path into the dark, not yet having found his partners corpse crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the oak tree. Rissas eyes flared blue as she cast her gaze upon the nearest orc and the electric blue fire leaped from her eyes. She felt the energy channel through her feet and course through her whole body as the lightning flashed from her eyes, her head snapped back as the bolt lanced from her nostrils, and a blue blaze shot from her mouth. Her strawberry-blond hair singed on either side of her head as the lightning, which had severly overloaded due to high iron content in the soil, flowed out of her ears, charging the soil around her, the hair on the heads and bodies of the other Orcs standing upon end. The object of her attention exploded into flame, blue and red flame flashing from every body orifice, his greasy,dirty clothes bursting into flames, and the blue lightning leapt from him to the tree he stood underneath, igniting it. The trees bole burst into a fireball, the leaves off every branch flying away and out toward the other trees, carrying fire toward them.

Like a crack of lightning in a clear sky to both friend and foe alike, everyone turned toward the tree for a moment, the humans stunned into immobility for a moment, the Dwarf in mid-swing, The Ranger in mid-draw, I was holding Big Nate by the bridle getting ready to get him to kick again, and who knows where Ash, Dayne, and Rissa had disappeared to. The Orcs had mostly all turned to look at the tree exploding in flame, a look of terror at the display of power in their eyes, and suddenly, as if by a common thread, they all made the decision that they had somewhere else that they suddenly needed to be and didnt need anything these pinkies had that badly. They turned away from the group, running in every direction.

Ash only checked his swing momentarily as the Orc he had targeted turned away from the tree toward him and began to run. The gray-green fighter only made it a step when Ashs invisible body slammed into his and using his quarterstaff shucked him under the chin, slamming him backward onto the flat of his back. The Orc landed on his back, stunned, and would never have seen the invisible quarterstaff as it scribed an arc through the air and impacted the forehead of the Orc, his arms and legs twitching. The metal tip of the staff just missed Dayne as he emerged from the soil and lightning flashed blue from his eyes, slamming into the Orc, his body twitching in death throes as the magical energy seared his insides. Ash winked back into view as he turned toward Dayne and cracked a wan smile at him, glancing as other orcs fled into the darkness. Dayne chuckled, nodding, and said, The only thing worse than a critical failure is a critical success”

I watched the nearest Orc as he was illuminated briefly by the flaring light of the tree and then he decided that, seeing his partner crumpled in a pile with two hoofmarks on his chest, to depart our little scene lunging and crashing into the bushes, disappearing in a cloud of leaves and dust. Grimgar crouched, weaving his axe back and forth as he saw his potential targets evaporating back at the edge of his extended vision and he realized the fight was over, several of his opponents down on the ground, some crawling to get away and Grimgar moved to them, delivering a finishing blow on the back of the skull with the pointed side of his axe. He saw Clarissa, standing under the burning tree, and Grimgar recognized the beginning of the Druidic spell for Rain mumbling from her lip. Uh, Oh, he thought. Were in for a soaking, as he turned back toward the fire to search up his rain cloak. On his left, he saw the two mages talking low, move their hands animatedly as they re-fought the combat from their magical point of view and he saw the new Ranger swing lithely from a tree, two gray-green opponents disappearing in the woods. He could see the Ranger calculating if it would be worth taking a shot and then, pausing, his hands relaxed ad he returned the arrow to his quiver with a measured movement. Hmm, thought the Dwarf. Something Elvish about that, but he kept walking and soon arrived back at the fire. He smiled a blood-splashed smile at me as I came to him with a wet towel as the first drops of rain started to fall into the fire and hissed. At least you stayed out of the fight and didnt get in the way.

I shrugged as I wiped the gore off of Grimgars face and wiggled the arrow that protruded from Grimgars right shoulder. The arrow was not deep but the barbs hung up on the mail and stopped me from just pulling it out. Twisting it with force, I finally pulled it loose and tossed the shaft into the fire where the fletchings flared briefly, consumed in the flames. I looked over at Big Nate and grinned. He looked back and gave the pair of us a big horse laugh …… well, a mule laugh.